children

You are currently browsing articles tagged children.

One of my favorite researchers, Chris Masterjohn, has just launched a new blog called “The Daily Lipid” where he writes about fats, cholesterol and health. Chris is pursuing a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology and is one of the most knowledgeable contemporary writers on cardiovascular health that I’m aware of. With his permission, I am cross-posting the first two articles on his blog – which you should definitely consider adding to your blogroll!

pregnant woman

Statins for pregnant women?

Statin manufacturers, the sycophantic researchers they pay, and the shameless hucksters who sell them are always up to no good, but their recent attempts to market them to pregnant women are simply horrifying.

According to a recent news article published in Mail online, researchers from liverpool believe that taking statins during pregnancy might help women avoid caesarean sections by promoting more robust uterine contraction. They hope to begin human trials in three to five years.

Somehow, the author of this article failed to react with the shock and horror appropriate to the situation — which should be the same shock and horror with which we would react to the suggestion that pregnant women should take thalidomide to avoid morning sickness.

Back in 2004, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the use of statins in the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with birth defects, especially severe central nervous system defects and limb deformities. In fact, 20 out of 52 women exposed to statins gave birth to offspring with such defects, which represents a birth defect rate of 38 percent, nearly 20 times the background rate of birth defects!

Even before this report was published, researchers already knew that statins caused birth defects in animal experiments, and the FDA already required the drugs to carry a label warning pregnant women to stay away from them. The article linked to above stated the following:

“FDA took this action because it was recognized that fetal cholesterol synthesis was essential for development, and because animals given statins during pregnancy had offspring with a variety of birth defects,” [one of the study's authors] said.

Less than a year later, Merck and Johnson & Johnson jointly asked the FDA for permission to market an over-the-counter statin. One of the concerns about the proposal was the risk to pregnant women. USA Today reported:

The FDA classifies Mevacor and other statins as pregnancy category X, which means they are not supposed to be taken by pregnant women. Not only have category X drugs been linked to fetal abnormalities in animal or human studies, but the FDA also has declared that the benefits of taking them do not outweigh potential risks.

According to the same article, Merck made a disturbing admission:

“Of course, there will be women who take it off-label,” acknowledges Merck executive Edwin Hemwall, referring to the use of non-prescription Mevacor by women under 55.

And what could prompt women to use statins during pregnancy against recommendations? Certainly a news article declaring that statins might prevent the need for caesarean sections and their associated complications could prompt some women to do so.

So what ground-breaking research made these Liverpool researchers so confident that taking drugs associated with twenty times the normal rate of major birth defects during pregnancy might be a good idea that they put out a press release declaring this confidence to the public before any trials were even under way?

Well, according to the article:

Tests have already shown that raising levels of cholesterol interferes with womb tissue’s ability to contract.
Really. Raising levels of cholesterol. You might wonder how they accomplished that. Did they use cholesterol-raising drugs? I don’t know of any drugs that do that. Did they use egg yolks, or the dreaded dietary villain — gasp — saturated fats?

No, the story is quite different.

The apparent basis for this ridiculous statin cheerleading is a 2004 study published by researchers from the University of Liverpool in the American Journal of Physiology — Cell Physiology entitled “Increased cholesterol decreases uterine activity: functional effects of cholesterol alteration in pregnant rat myometrium.”

Rather than feeding anything to pregnant women or pregnant rats, the researchers took pregnant rats and killed them. So the first thing we can say is that statins might help you deliver a baby if your doctor kills you first.

Then they extracted the uterine tissue and either extracted cholesterol from it with a chemical solvent called methyl beta-cyclodextrin, or enriched it either with cholesterol mixed with this solvent or with LDL (which they didn’t measure for oxidation prior to use). Then they added drugs to induce contraction under either cholesterol-depleted or cholesterol-enriched conditions, and found that contraction was greater under cholesterol-depleted conditions.

So now we know that — wait, what is it we know?

Well, quite clearly, we don’t know anything that we can have any confidence has any physiological relevance at all. That is, except the fact that statins cause birth defects in animals, and they increase the rate of birth defects in humans by nearly twenty times, primarily by causing severe defects of the central nervous system and limb deformities.

To add to that, we also know that the vast majority of humans conceived with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS), a genetic inability to synthesize enough cholesterol, die of spontaneous abortion in the first 16 weeks of gestation. Those who live long enough to be born suffer from mental retardation, autism, facial and skeletal malformations, visual dysfunctions and failure to thrive.

Statins for pregnant women? I don’t think so.

Article written by Chris Masterjohn

Statins for 8-year old children?

child with drug

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced new recommendations for giving cholesterol-lowering drugs to children as young as eight years old. They also recommend giving low-fat milk to infants as young as one year old.

The New York Times published several articles on this, first announcing the recommendation the day the academy made it, then describing the backlash of saner doctors and other members of the public against it, and finally editorializing that while they were first “appalled” at the recommendation, after reading the report they were more dismayed at the state of our children’s health.

Concerning this frightful state of children’s health, the Times reported the following:

“We are in an epidemic,” said Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the academy’s nutrition committee who is a professor and chief of neonatology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. “The risk of giving statins at a lower age is less than the benefit you’re going to get out of it.”

Dr. Bhatia said that although there was not “a whole lot” of data on pediatric use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, recent research showed that the drugs were generally safe for children.

An epidemic of what? High cholesterol? Not according to the academy’s report, which states that cholesterol levels in children declined between 1966 and 1994 and stayed the same between 1994 and 2000.

No, we are in an epidemic of obesity. As the Times reported:

But proponents say there is growing evidence that the first signs of heart disease show up in childhood, and with 30 percent of the nation’s children overweight or obese, many doctors fear that a rash of early heart attacks and diabetes is on the horizon as these children grow up.

Is there any evidence that statins lead to weight loss? If there is, I am not aware of it.

The point is immaterial, because the academy doesn’t claim to have any evidence for its position in the first place. For example, its report states the following:

Also, data supporting a particular level of childhood cholesterol that predicts risk of adult CVD do not exist, which makes the prospect of a firm evidence-based recommendation for cholesterol screening for children elusive.
And further down:

It is difficult to develop an evidence-based approach for the specific age at which pharmacologic treatment should be implemented. . . . It is not known whether there is an age at which development of the atherosclerotic process is accelerated.

In other words, they don’t know what level of cholesterol is risky and at what age it starts posing a risk, but they will nevertheless assume that there is some level that does start to pose a risk at some age and they will thus have to make a guess just what that level and what that age is.

The report discusses evidence that the “metabolic syndrome” and the “recent epidemic of childhood obesity” are tied to the risk of diabetes and heart disease and evidence that even modest weight loss at a level of five to seven percent is sufficient to prevent diabetes. Yet somehow instead of making a recommendation about how to more effectively lose weight the authors derive from this data a much less logical but much more profitable conclusion that 8-year-olds should be put on statins.

As to the recommendation to feed infants low-fat milk, the Times reported the following:

The academy also now recommends giving children low-fat milk after 12 months if a doctor is concerned about future weight problems. Although children need fat for brain development, the group says that because children often consume so much fat, low-fat milk is now appropriate.

This is rather remarkable, because the academy attributed the drop in childhood cholesterol levels to the successes of the anti-fat, anti-cholesterol campaign that began in the 1950s. But now children no longer need milkfat because they are getting plenty of fat. Well which is it? Are they getting more fat now or less fat?

Of course milkfat is also a source of choline, along with liver and egg yolks, which is essential to brain development.

But even this misses the point. Cholesterol is essential to brain development!

One of the first articles I added to my section on the functions of cholesterol was an article entitled “Learning, Your Memory, and Cholesterol.” It discusses the evidence uncovered eight years ago that cholesterol is the limiting factor for the formation of synapses, which are the connections between neurons that allow learning and memory to take place.

Lowering brain levels of cholesterol can be detrimental at any age beacause of this, but the consequences for children — whose brains are still developing at a much more rapid rate — could be much more dire.

No doubt, most researchers and medical doctors mean well and are honestly trying to help our children. But surely someone in these drug companies must know that cholesterol is necessary for brain development, and that cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce mental performance in adults. Surely they must know that if we raise our next generation of children on statins during the critical periods of brain development, we may raise a whole generation with compromised intelligence.

And if that’s the case, are they trying to dumb us down? Sometimes it seems like that’s the case.

Article written by Chris Masterjohn

Today’s article about the dangers of soy products is from Nourishing Our Children, an organization dedicated to supported learning, behavior and health in children through optimal nutrition. I encourage all parents to visit their website and read the “What Parents Need to Know” section. There is also a downloads section with free guides and briefing books available for download.

soybeansAlthough widely promoted as a health food, hundreds of studies link modern processed soy to malnutrition, digestive problems, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, immune system breakdown, and even heart disease and cancer. How could soy be linked to all this disease? Because the soybean contains many naturally occurring toxins. All legumes contain toxins but the problem with soy is that the toxins are found in very high levels and are resistant to the traditional ways of getting rid of them.

Long, slow fermentation (as in the traditional production of miso, tempeh and soy sauce) gets rid of the phytic acid and other digestive inhibitors but not the phytoestrogens in soy.

Myths About Isoflavones

One of the most common myths is that soy estrogens (isoflavones) are beneficial for your health. Isoflavones are the estrogen-like compounds occurring naturally in soy foods. They act as the plant’s natural pesticides, causing insects to become sterile. Research has shown that isoflavones can prevent ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. As little as 38 mg isoflavones per day (less than the amount found in 1 cup of soy milk) can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue. The isoflavones in soy have been shown to cause reproductive problems, infertility, thyroid disease and liver disease in mice, rats, cheetahs, sturgeon, quail, sheep, pigs and marmoset monkeys.

Traditional Versus Modern Soy Foods

It is important to distinguish between traditional and modern soy foods. In Asia, traditional soy foods were consumed in small amounts, usually as a fermented condiment. Traditional fermented soy foods include miso, soy sauce, tempeh and natto. Tofu was prepared by a precipitation process that gets rid of some of the anti-nutrients, and tofu was often then fermented. Tofu was usually consumed in small amounts in fish broth, which provided lots of compensating minerals and compounds that support thyroid function.

Soymilk underwent a very long preparation process to get rid of anti-nutrients and it was consumed with shrimp or egg yolk, ingredients that helped compensate for the many anti-nutrients that remained. Mostly a food for the elderly, it was sometimes given to nursing mothers but never to growing children.

Problems with Soy Protein Isolate

Modern soy foods are very different. Most are made with soy protein isolate (SPI), which is a protein-rich powder extracted by an industrial process from the waste product of soy oil manufacturing. It is the industry’s way of making a profit on a waste product. The industry spent over 30 years and billions of dollars developing SPI.

Soy Protein Isolate is produced at very high temperatures and pressures. This processing does get rid of some of the anti-nutrients in soybeans, but unfortunately many of the proteins are denatured in the process, including lysine. That is why growing animals fed soy must be given a lysine supplement. In feeding studies, SPI caused many deficiencies in rats. That soy causes deficiencies in B12 and zinc is widely recognized; but the range of deficiencies was surprising.

Although SPI is added to many foods, it was never granted GRAS status, meaning “Generally Recognized as Safe”. The FDA only granted GRAS status to SPI for use as a binder in cardboard boxes. During the processing of soy, many additional toxins are formed, including nitrates (which are carcinogens) and a toxin called lysinoalanine. It was concerns about lysinoalanine in SPI that led the FDA to deny GRAS status for SPI as a food additive.

In spite of all these problems, SPI is the basic ingredient of soy infant formula and the FDA even allows a health claim for foods containing 6.25 grams SPI per serving.

The Dangers of Soy Infant Formula

Infants on soy formula can take in dangerously high levels of soy isoflavones. On a body weight basis, this can mean ten times the level that can cause thyroid suppression in adults after three months, and eight times the level that can cause hormonal changes in adults after just one month.

According to a Swiss report adult women consuming 100 mg isoflavones (about 2 cups of soy milk, or 1 cup of cooked mature soybeans) provide the estrogenic equivalent of a contraceptive pill.

This means for a baby that weighs 6 kg (or just over 13 pounds), 10 mg provides the estrogenic equivalent of a contraceptive pill. Thus, the average amount of soy-based formula taken in by a child provides the estrogenic equivalent of at least four birth control pills. Because babies are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of dietary estrogens, the effects could actually be much greater than that of four birth control pills.

Hence the statement, “Babies on soy formula receive the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day.”

Homemade Baby Formula

For adopted infants, or as a solution for mothers who aren’t physically able to breastfeed or who aren’t able to produce enough milk, we’d like parents to know that there are nutrient dense, homemade Baby Formula Recipes in the book Nourishing Traditions which have been used with great success by parents all over the world since 1995!

Recommended Links

  • Nourishing Our Children
  • Myths and Truths About Soy
  • Soy Alert

pills on spoon

THS reader Chad sent in this question:

Antidepressants – effective or placebo?

The use of antidepressant medication has become so widespread and commonly accepted that it seems almost sacrilegious to question it. But alas, questioning is the name of the game here at The Healthy Skeptic!

And what do you know? Antidepressants aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In fact, a recent meta-review of published studies on the efficacy of antidepressant drugs revealed that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat depression, have no clinically meaningful advantage over placebo.

What that means is that in most of the trials reviewed, patients who took a sugar pill recovered from depression just as often as those who took the active drug. This study may come as some surprise to both physicians and the general public, whose faith in the efficacy of these drugs has led to over 118 million prescriptions in 2007 and over $16 billion in sales.

But should this really come as a surprise? Antidepressant drugs are thought to act by altering levels of brain neurotransmitters; however, it takes several weeks before these changes can be measured. Yet patients often report symptomatic relief within hours or days of receiving an antidepressant.

Available data suggests, in fact, that SSRIs are no more effective than placebos and have considerable adverse effects and risks, including increased suicidality amongst both children and adults. Sapirstein and Kirsch conducted a meta-analysis of 3,000 patients who received either antidepressants, psychotherapy, placebo or no treatment at all. They found that 27% of therapeutic responses were attributable to drug activities, 50% to psychological factors, and 23% to “non-specific” factors. In other words, 73% of the response to the drug was unrelated to its pharmacological activities – and antidepressants may be no better or more specific than placebos.

This of course raises grave questions about why the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) still recommends that antidepressants should the be first line treatment for moderate or severe depression. Their message is identical to that of the Defeat Depression Campaign in the early 90s, which contributed to the 253% rise in antidepressant prescribing in 10 years.

In a review published in the British Medical Journal in February of 2006, researchers Joanna Moncrieff and Irving Kirsch point out that the NICE recommendations ignore even their own study data. Although the NICE meta-analysis of placebo controlled trials of SSRIs found statistically significant differences in levels of symptoms, these were so small that the effects were deemed “unlikely to be clinically important.”

After analyzing several published studies and reviews, Moncrieff and Kirsch reached the following conclusions:

Summary points

  1. SSRIs have no clinically meaningful advantage over placebo
  2. Claims that antidepressants are more effective in more severe conditions have little evidence to support them
  3. Methodological artifacts may account for the small degree of superiority shown over placebo
  4. Antidepressants have not been convincingly shown to affect the long-term outcome of depression or suicide rates

The response to a drug or placebo in a clinical trial for depression is often measured using the Hamilton rating scale, a multiple choice questionnaire which doctors use to rate the severity of a patient’s condition. The questionnaire rates the severity of symptoms observed in depression such as low mood, insomnia, agitation, anxiety and weight-loss; it is considered to be a highly reliable physician-rated scale and has been reported to be more sensitive than patient-rated scales to drug/placebo differences. (Murray, 1989)

In the NICE meta-analysis, the difference between drug and placebo groups was one point. The most commonly used 17 item version of the Hamilton scale has a maximum score of 52. It is highly unlikely that a difference of one point on a 52-point scale is clinically significant, a fact that the FDA has admitted in memoranda (Laughren, 1998; Leber, 1998) reviewed by Moncrieff and Kirsch.

Other studies have yielded similar results. A study by Khan et al. found a 10% difference in levels of symptoms between placebo and active drugs in two different meta-analyses. In a more recent review, Kirsch et al. invoked the Freedom of Information (FOA) act to obtain access to previously unpublished studies (the drug companies are under no requirement to publish a study they have sponsored if the results don’t suit them). The overall difference between drugs and placebos in that analyses was 1.7 points on the Hamilton scale.

Moncrieff and Kirsch also point out that the Hamilton scale contains seven items concerning sleep and anxiety, with each item on sleep scoring up to six points. Therefore any drug with some sedative properties, including many antidepressants, could produce a difference of two points or more without exerting any specific antidepressant effect.

Follow-up studies that track patients for a significant length of time have also shown very poor outcomes for people treated for depression both in the hospital and in outpatient settings, and the overall prevalence of depression is rising despite increased use of antidepressants. Suicide rates have increased in some groups and some countries, despite increased prescribing of antidepressant, and there are continuing concerns that SSRIs may increase the risk of suicidal behavior in obht cildren and adults.

In children, the balance of benefits to risks in antidepressant treatment is already recognized as “unfavorable”. The analyses performed by Moncrieff and Kirsch strongly suggests that the same is the case for adults, and that the ongoing uncertainty about the possible risk of increased suicidality as well as the adverse effects of antidepressant drugs warrant a “thorough re-evaluation of our current approach” to treating depression.

I couldn’t agree more. One question the authors failed to pose, which I believe to be at the root of the matter, is why are so many more children and adults depressed now than before? You might not be surprised to learn that I have some thoughts about this. But I’ll save them for another post.

kids shoes
The Healthy Skeptic reader Jessica wrote in with this topic suggestion:

“I like the “what to feed children” idea. But it has to be food they will actually EAT.”

The question of how to nourish our children so they develop into healthy adults is one of the most important questions we can ask. Tragically, the answers that the medical mainstream has come up with have contributed to unprecedented epidemics of childhood disease and endangered the health and well-being of our children.

The numbers of overweight and obese children worldwide are expected to climb dramatically by 2010, according to a study by Youfa Wang, PhD, MD at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. By the end of the decade, 46 percent of children in North and South America are projected to be overweight and 15 percent will be obese. It’s been assumed that U.S. life expectancy would rise indefinitely, but a new data analysis which was published as a special report in the March 17, 2005 issue of New England Journal of Medicine suggests that this trend is about to reverse itself – due to the rapid rise in obesity, especially among children.

Increasing numbers of children are being treated for depression, according to a 2004 study in the British Journal of Medicine. A 1999 report in California from the state’s Department of Developmental Services found that autism had increased by 273 percent from 1987 to 1998. Current estimates for the incidence of autism are as high as 1 in 120. A national review by The Advocacy Institute in 2002 revealed that learning disabilities in children increased by 30 percent from 1990 to 2000.

These studies show that our children are more obese, more depressed, and have more learning disabilities and behavioral problems than ever before. What could be the cause of such a dramatic change?

Although each of these diseases is complex and multifactorial, it is safe to say that diet and nutrition play a significant role in all of them. For example, consider the key nutrients for brain development in children:

Key nutrients for brain development

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Choline
  • DHA
  • Zinc
  • Tryptophan
  • Cholesterol

Many parents probably know that these nutrients aren’t found in the refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils and sugars which form the bedrock of the standard American diet. Yet many parents may be unaware that even foods widely assumed to be nutritional – including packaged foods commonly described as “organic”, “natural” or “fortified” – are themselves highly processed and stripped of nutritional value, and little better than their “non-organic” alternatives.

So what should we be feeding our children to ensure healthy growth and development? The following “First Steps” recommended by children’s health advocacy group Nourishing Our Children will get you started:

First steps to healthier children

  1. Replace sugar with natural sweeteners like honey and rapadura.
  2. Replace fruit juices with whole, raw milk.
  3. Replace breakfast cereals with non-nitrate bacon, eggs from hens on pasture, whole milk yogurt, homemade kefir, soaked oatmeal or soaked, wholegrain pancakes.
  4. Replace pasteurized dairy products with raw and cultured dairy.
  5. Eliminate all processed soy foods from your household (this includes soy milk, “protein bars” with soy, baked tofu products and all “soy fast food”).
  6. Replace polyunsaturated vegetable oils and trans fats with traditional fats such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, and tallow.
  7. Replace processed, convenience foods (boxed, packaged, prepared and canned food items) with fresh, organic, whole foods
  8. Provide a daily dose of high vitamin cod liver oil (with no synthetic vitamins added)

In contrast to the bland, unsatisfying (and dangerous) low-fat diet recommended by medical authorities, kids naturally love the foods in a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. However, it is true that if they’ve been on a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates for a long time, there will be an adjustment period as they transition away from those highly processed foods.

My suggestion is to take one item on the list above at a time, and be gentle with yourself. It may take a while longer that way to get to where you want to be, but it’s worth the effort! Some of the changes will be more difficult than others. For example, most children (and adults) prefer the taste of saturated fats like butter, cream and whole-fat dairy to low-fat alternatives such as vegetable oil and skim milk – but may not yet have acquired a taste for cod liver oil!

I’ve provided links to some articles below with some helpful ideas on how to encourage even the most finicky eaters to enjoy nutrient-dense foods and some ideas for quick and healthy brown-bag lunch suggestions for parents.

Recommended links

  • Articles on children’s health – Weston A. Price Foundation
  • Feeding Our Children, by Thomas Cowan, M.D.
  • Taking the Icky out of Picky Eaters
  • Foods to Tantalize Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • Packing the Perfect Lunch Box
  • Nourishing Our Children – children’s health advocacy group

Bad Behavior has blocked 1411 access attempts in the last 7 days.